Ever since I was a kid, I always knew that I wanted a part in the film-making process, whether it’s as an actor, editor or director. However, it wasn’t until around two years ago when I started really getting into film (thank you Letterboxd). Since then, I’ve become an avid film watcher. A lover of the craft. A simple cinephile, if you will. But during this time, I’ve come across a few roadblocks, and I reckon I’m not alone here.
What makes someone a cinephile? Is it after they’ve seen 500 films? 750? 1000? Or maybe the answer is just “loving film”, which to me, it is. Still, I find myself wrestling with issues such as the amount of films out there, their availability, as well as gate-keeping among film fans. And I don’t think I’m the only one who attends this self-pity party.
Too Many Classics To See?
Maybe the biggest problem I have is that there are just so many movies to watch that I can hardly keep up with all of them. The number of classics that I still haven’t seen can be intimidating, including Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I end up feeling as if I’ll never know enough – or see enough – to consider myself a true fan of the medium. “Oh, you like film?” says the theoretical bully in my head, “Name five Academy Award-winning films from the 70s that you’ve seen”. And I won’t have an answer, because I’ve just spent all my free time watching movies from this year’s Academy Awards.
Whether on YouTube, Letterboxd, Reddit, or even The Simple Cinephile itself, you will always come across people who are passionate about movies. To the point where they can contribute these incredible, long form analyses that praise what they love about films in a unique fashion. Whether discussing production design or themes, these are writers who appear to have a true grasp over cinema. So, to even consider myself a ‘cinephile’, in comparison, can come off as silly. I end up feeling like a bit of a fraud. Can I really consider myself knowledgeable over cinema if Mamma Mia and Scooby-Doo are some of my favorite movies?
On one hand, it’s great that we can look up a movie and watch it then and there (whether it’s via streaming, renting or digital). But even then, maybe I’ve missed the right jumping on point for seeing all the classics? Perhaps if I had been born around the 70s or 80s, I’d have a chance to absorb all these films at a relaxing pace. Or maybe I just procrastinate too much.
The older the industry gets, the bigger the backlog becomes for new fans. The awards season for 2018 just wrapped up, and now I find out that there’s even more films coming out? They never stop, they’re relentless! Just think about how many fresh and significant pictures we’ll get in the next few decades. How long before we end up seeing books called ‘2001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’?
Availability & Gate-keeping
By now you may have heard of the current debate between Steven Spielberg and Netflix. While the issue at hand is more complex than it seems, I stand by the fact that movies are movies, and that going to a theater to see a film should not be a requirement. From a global perspective, it’s not hard to believe that many don’t have access to movie theaters, or that they can afford going to one on a regular basis (especially when ticket prices continue to rise year after year). Of course, there are subscription services available – but MoviePass is crumbling and AMC’s A-List program is only exclusive to, well, AMC.
But I’m broke and don’t live near an AMC, so when it comes to smaller films, it’s historically unlikely that they’ll be showing a theater near me. To give an example for this oft-repeated scenario: When Eighth Grade first came out, the nearest cinema showing ended up being so far out of my local area that I had no choice but to wait until the digital release. Cue the tiny violins.
As with any large community, it’s no surprise to anyone that there’s gate-keeping among film fans. There will always be people who think that some movies are just too lowbrow, or that someone’s opinion is outright wrong. It’s fine for people to disagree, but I wholeheartedly believe that every film is someone’s favorite. In fact, I’m reminded of an anecdote John Krasinski gave in an interview with The New York Times, about Paul Thomas-Anderson:
“I had just seen a movie I didn’t love. I said to [Paul] over a drink, ‘It’s not a good movie,’ and he so sweetly took me aside and said very quietly, ‘Don’t say that. Don’t say that it’s not a good movie. If it wasn’t for you, that’s fine, but in our business, we’ve all got to support each other.’ The movie was very artsy, and he said, ‘You’ve got to support the big swing. If you put it out there that the movie’s not good, they won’t let us make more movies like that.’”John Krasinski
I’m all for constructive criticism about why someone thinks a film is bad. But, frankly, if your favorite movie isn’t hurting anyone, who cares what the majority have to say about it? If your favorite movie is a rom-com, or a cheap B-movie, you can parade that badge of honor as much as you like. At the end of the day, whether or not you’ve seen old black-and-white movies does not matter. Will it teach you more about the craft? Absolutely, and that door is wide open for you.
But I don’t think that being a film fan means having that knowledge or experience. For me, it means having the constant desire for it. It’s about always wanting to watch more movies, always wanting to understand why something works and something else doesn’t. It’s about loving film. Ultimately, my issues with getting into film barely matter; not when we can watch what we want to watch, love what we want to love, and enjoy it.